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Iemanja

I’m Stella, the newest permablogger here on Exponent II. I was born and raised in the church, served a mission, and was an active single member until my 30th birthday (last year). Since then my life has become malleable and has taken a shape I never expected. I have a BA in English from BYU and a MA in Art and Humanities from NYU. I’m a photographer, painter, teacher, writer, lover and a fighter. I’m very excited to be part of this wonderful community.
Girl with Red

How do you feel, if you believe in a religion where this is true, to only have a MALE god to relate to? Have you ever been worried about it? How do you feel having your Savior be a male? Do you wonder if he can really, possibly, truly know your innermost thoughts and ideas and struggles as a woman? Am I alone in wondering why the world shuns the idea of a FEMALE Divine?

There are numerous Jewish and Christian groups who see the Holy Spirit as being our heavenly Mother. They base their thinking regarding the gender of the Holy Spirit on the fact that the Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach, which is feminine. I thought this was an interesting idea…not one that works for me, but I love that other religions have tried to work the female into their fundamental belief system. The LDS church, too, has tried to work in the idea of a Heavenly Mother, but she is so quiet and so unknown and sometime so unmentionable that I have a hard time figuring out the idea of her.

The Umbanda or, it is known in Brazil, the Candomble religion worship Iemanja as one of the Seven orixas of the African Pantheon. She is the Queen of the Ocean, the feminine principle of creation and the spirit of moonlight (much like the Catholic Our lady of the Seafaring). I feel connected with her for a very real reason. When I was studying the educational systems and art in Brazil, our group of 40 students went to the home of a Candomble Priestess and ate African food while she told us about her religion. They identify with three Gods and four Goddesses. As you grow, the Priestess will assign you a patron God or Goddess to identify with. Someone asked her how she assigned them. She said that often, the God or Goddess was simply shinning through so brightly, it was impossible to deny. So, that girl asked again, “Well, can you see any of them in us?”

The Priestess, beautiful in her white clothing, regal in her manner, spiritual in her nature looked around the room and said, “Yes, there are three here who shine bright with their God.”

The girl pressed her, “Won’t you tell us?!” I was quiet, knowing that when she had scanned the room, her eyes had lingered just a bit longer on me then they had on the girl next to me.

She pointed to two people and told them, then she pointed to me. “You, with the blonde, your Goddess is as clear as the blue sea on our coasts. Your Goddess is Iemanja.”

If you research Iemanja (or Yemaya)–you’ll see why it was so special for me. The mother goddess, the patron deity of women, especially pregnant women. I felt like here was a Goddess that encorporated much of what I would picture a Goddess to be.

The feeling inside, this idea that a female goddess was shinning through me, was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. Even more than that was realizing that I hold within myself endless possibilities. However, it has taken me a long time to get to where I am, and I still wonder about these male Gods. I still wonder what life would have been like for an innocent, blonde, rosy cheeked girl to grow up with a strong female divine letting her know that she was just as good as the men who were allowed to lead her, not because they were better, but just because that’s how it’s always been done.

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19 Responses

  1. suzann says:

    I love you story, and you art.

    I know other Mormon women who search outside the Church for a spiritual connection with the Divine feminine. For me, this quiet connection with angels, and the feminine Divine,(Goddess) feels like deep breathing fresh spiritual air. Every Sunday, I envision myself surrounded with a bright light of love, and all things divinely feminine, as I enter the LDS church of patriarchy.

    Suzann

  2. mb says:

    Nope, God’s maleness doesn’t bother me in the least.

    I am completely comfortable with it. I feel clearly and surely the veracity of what Paul wrote to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    If the gender of his children doesn’t make a difference to God in his relationship with them, then God’s gender certainly doesn’t make a difference to me. I feel fully loved and understood by him, I sense all the qualities of goodness in him that I could ever hope for from any being and I feel in that relationship all the endless possibilities you mention feeling yourself and, as you said, “just as good”, though I would rephrase that to “as delighted in” since the former is a judgment statement and I don’t feel that comparison going on in his mind.

    If others feel an incompleteness or an alienation from leadership by a male(heavenly or earthly) I can respect that. But I don’t feel it myself.

    God sees past gender. I hope I do as well.

  3. Minerva says:

    I’ve often wondered why I don’t feel a lacuna where my Mother in Heaven should be. I have identified more or less as a feminist for almost 15 years now. I think partly it’s that I just know/feel/believe she’s there so I don’t really worry about how we’ve acted towards her (not sure if that makes sense), but I think it has a lot more to do with “mother issues.” My mother is not particularly nurturing, but my father is. So maybe it was just much more plausible for me as a little girl to see God as a male. Basically, I think our perceptions of God have a lot to do with our earthly parents.

  4. Minerva says:

    I want to clarify what I said. I believe in Mother in Heaven, so the lacuna is not a disbelief in her, but rather the gap is that though I believe in her, I do not have “issues” with her not being explicitly worshipped. I don’t feel anger or sorrow about the lack of attention Mother in Heaven gets, and I’m a bit perplexed as to why I don’t.

  5. Emily Potter says:

    Two years ago, Heavenly Mother made herself
    known to me the same way Heavenly Father had
    when I was a child. Now I pray to both, now I
    ask both my Father and Mother to fill me with
    light. In history, we see that the earth and
    its people have breathed in an ebb and flow
    of masculine or feminine energy. We have been i
    in a male energetic field for generations now, and
    are currently flowing into a female consciousness
    once more. This is witnessed by many spiritual
    communities, and it’s this energy that starts blogs like these. Perhaps it is ideal to have that
    balance of both forces…perhaps that’s where
    we’re going next? Let us not forget, however we intend our energies, that both forces are and always have
    present within us.

  6. D'Arcy says:

    Suzann: I have to agree with the deep breathing and fresh spiritual air. While I don’t worship a female divinity, through recent experiences with meditation, positive affirmations, and filling my life with love, I defintely feel more connected to my own feminie divinity.

    mb: I think it’s so wonderful you have such a strong connection to God. I don’t believe in a God who sees genders either, and who loves his children equally..however that God and the LDS God I’ve seen preached across the pulpit tend to have their differences. Obviously, this tends to be a fallacy of a religious institution then of the actual God. And perhaps the term “God” carries much more with it than a simple gender role.

    Minerva: Thanks for your comment. I am trying to get in touch with that “Mother in Heaven” spirit and idea more on my own than waiting for a religion to teach me about her. I think my concern has always been that we have an idea of God and Jesus, that people have had visions of both, that so many male Godly manifestations have been sounded, I wonder why we couldn’t get at least some semblance of an idea of Mother in Heaven at all. I have a few ideas as to why, but that would start a whole other conversation!

  7. Noah says:

    This idea of acquainting oneself with the female component of God is a wonderful and necessary endeavor. I think we look at the problems that exist in the world, and men and women alike are crying out for their Mother in Heaven. And I firmly believe she is listening. It’s wonderful that you have found Mother in Heaven through Iemanja. May I also recommend Inanna, Durga, and Isis–each of them manifestations of the Great Goddess in my humble opinion.

    That said, there’s something we need to realize about Christ. Yes, he’s a male, but he’s always on his Heavenly Mother’s errand as well as his Father’s. If you bear this in mind, you realize that there really are places in the Scriptures where God the Mother is speaking, and not God the Father.

    The best example (but by no means the only one) is in the Pearl of Great Price. I am convinced than when Enoch is heaven speaking to God, he is speaking to his Heavenly Mother. I’m not going to go into details here, but read it again for yourself. Ask yourself if you feel her presence there.

    I may write a blog post on it eventually, but unfortunately, I haven’t found time to do it yet. Someday.

  8. G says:

    awesome! (and welcome, d’arcy)

    That is like my utter fantasy come true, to have a priestess see a goddess shine through me. What a cool experience.

    Personally, I agree with Lynnette that Mormon women would be much better off without the rhetoric of Heavenly Mother. The Church’s teachings surrounding her are really not helpful at giving women anything to look forward to.

    But outside of the church there are some very interesting and intriguing feminine divine concepts and teachings that are worth exploring. I’m so happy for you that you had this experience.

  9. Gwen says:

    Hmm, I have never felt a loss or hole where the divine feminine should be. Thinking back on it, I think that it is because my father died when I was very young, too young to know him really, and so the idea of my father has always been somewhat abstract to me.
    Also, I have never considered myself to be a feminist, but others who know me say that they think I am. I think this could also because my mother was always more permanent and knowable, and she acted the role of both parents for me. I just grew up with the idea that fathers are there for you in a spiritual, or other-worldly sense while it is women and mothers that do most of the day-to-day, temporal, work of life.

  10. Alisa says:

    Welcome, D’Arcy! I love the poetry of what this priestess said to you. How wonderful to have a diety shine through you brightly.

    I was going to link to Lynnette’s post, but G beat me to it. While I don’t know how or if not being able to officially address or know about my Mother in Heaven affects me in the present moment, it certainly impacts the way I see myself eternally. Men know who they are to become like in the hereafter. Women don’t have that luxury. We’ve never even had an official account of a resurrected woman appearing to anyone. Who really knows if the narrative of the afterlife works for women the way it does for men? If I were more connected to my Mother in Heaven, maybe I’d have these anxieties assuaged.

  11. Alisa says:

    Noah, I liked your response here. I also thought your wife had some very nice points. The whole language about being Priestesses TO our husbands while they are Priests UNTO God has always confused me. As an language person, I always wondered why different prepositions were used. And like I mentioned in my previous comment, the absolute silence that revolves around women’s eternal role (including talking about Mother in Heaven or the absence of any resurrected women) makes the whole thing look sketchy.

    Some might even say that God will be married to his heavenly daughters in the hereafter. I had BYU profs try to tell me that Mary the mother of Jesus would be one of Heavenly Father’s wives in the hereafter. Crazy stuff (and I had to mark answers to tests according to their personal opinions – ugh!). But the language in the temple and the complete lack of knowledge around the eternal plan for women almost leaves the door open to consider all of us women might endure the same fate.

    Sorry for the really weird metaphysical talk, but what I’m saying is that eternity is ambiguous for women, and by contrast the path for men is much more defined, for no other reason other than that by knowing their Father in Heaven, they learn who they are and will be.

  12. EmilyCC says:

    D’arcy, beautiful post and a pleasure to have you join us permanently!

    I love looking at other religious traditions to see how they incorporate with the Divine Feminine. Your Iemanja experience has left me a bit misty here at my computer.

  13. D'Arcy says:

    Emily Potter! You’ve taught me more about a feminine divine than anyone else I know. And i had all of these thoughts in mind when I posted this blog. You are divine!

  14. D'Arcy says:

    G and Alisa, yes, I think Lynettes post has resonated with all of us on some level. Her views were refreshing to read as they gave voice to many things I had felt for some time.

  15. Kelly Ann says:

    D’Arcy, thank you for sharing this. Your experience is unique and truly beautiful.

    For me, as a child, thinking of God as my father was powerful in that the gap my earthly fathers left was filled. As others, I believe that our perspective is influenced by our life experience.

    My sister’s patriarchal blessing mentioned that she was particularly loved by her Heavenly Mother, so as a youth, I registered her existence but never thought about relating to her as a God. Attending BYU in 1996 during and after the stir Gail Houston created, I found the concept of praying to Heavenly Mother extreme (for which Houston was fired). I mostly adopted the reference respect mentality that we don’t talk about her because she is too sacred that exists in some areas of the church.

    However, what has always bothered me is the link to Polygamy. Is God a Polygamist? How many Heavenly Mothers are there? Is that why we don’t talk about her?

    And in regards to the potential to becoming like God (which I naturally embraced), the thing that bothers me most about the Mormon feminine divine is that it seems a goddess is only subject to an eternity of child-bearing and child-raising? I’d rather create worlds – I am a biochemist after all.

    And so, for the most part, I choose not to think about it. Although I find the concept of a feminine spirit quite intriguing even if it doesn’t fit with LDS doctrine. But I would like to believe in a Heavenly Mother, equal to Heavenly Father, loved by him and working as a team, loving me with all her heart, and loving her daughters who actively think of her. And even if God is a polygamist (shutter), I like to believe MY Heavenly Mother is also displeased with that weird aspect of Mormon theology.

  16. mb says:

    Alisa,

    Long ago I learned that all BYU religion professors should be taken with a serious grain of salt. Though they are well intentioned, any conjecture they propose is highly suspect. I’d toss out the one you mentioned without batting an eye. Sounds like the professor was into straining at gnats and swallowing camels on that one.

    I’d often mulled over the prepositional phrases you mention and then discovered that they are different in initiatory. Long and short of it, I cease to read anything into them and just chalk it up to the imperfections of the English language that fail to capture the celestially possible.

    But that’s nothing new. Human language has always failed to accurately describe celestial life for either men or women, in spite of each speaker’s best attempts. No description, over the pulpit or otherwise, has done or can do it anywhere near the justice (and mercy, and glory) it deserves.

  17. Alisa says:

    mb, I totally agree! After one of my friends had signed up for several BoM classes (a requirement at BYU) and kept dropping b/c of crazy religious professors, he decided to deliberately take the class from the most crazy prof. he could find and just enjoy the opinions spouted. Sometimes if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Or at least seek entertainment.

    On the temple stuff, I definitely see wisdom in letting the language thing go before looking for too much of the essence in it.

  18. Jessawhy says:

    Fabulous post, D’Arcy.
    I’m reading Memoirs of a Geisha for a book group, and I’m totally confused when they keep referring to water in her personality. I wonder if it has something to do with the Goddess of the Ocean. . .

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